Table of Contents
- What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
- What Are Adrenal Glands?
- Causes of Adrenal Fatigue
- Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- How to Overcome Adrenal Fatigue
- Following an Adrenal Fatigue Diet
- Foods to Add
- Supplements and Herbs for Adrenal Fatigue
- Reducing Adrenal Fatigue Stress
Also known as hypoadrenia, the term “adrenal fatigue” was created by Dr. James Wilson, a specialist in alternative medicine and a naturopath, in 1998. According to Dr. Wilson, adrenal fatigue is a set of symptoms that are caused when the adrenal glands function below the optimal level.
He believes that the condition is caused due to inconsistent cortisol hormone levels in the bloodstream due to long-term chronic stress that causes the adrenal glands to get overstimulated. Apart from the varying cortisol levels, people suffering from adrenal fatigue also have insufficient levels of DHEA, the key hormone that is responsible for the creation of other essential hormones in the body.
Adrenal fatigue is a condition that is caused by lifestyle and chronic stress and affects the ability of your body to recuperate from various kinds of stress – mental, physical and emotional. Adrenal fatigue typically mimics various types of disorders and is not easy to recognize and diagnose. The various symptoms of adrenal fatigue include extreme tiredness and fatigue, weight gain, brain fog and insulin resistance, among others.
Also called the suprarenal glands, the adrenal glands or simply adrenals, are two small organs located on top of your kidneys and are an important part of the endocrine system. The adrenals play a very important role in hormone production and produce more than 50 hormones which control most of the body’s functions.
The adrenals play an important role in the regulation of the cortisol released in the body and also a vital role in stress response. The adrenals also help to balance the other hormones in your body such as the glucocorticoids, i.e. the hormones which help in food and energy metabolism, regulating blood sugar levels, managing the immune response and relieving stress. Mineralocorticoids, are the hormones that help in maintaining your blood pressure levels, blood hydration levels and also the balance of water and salt in the blood. Sex hormones, i.e. testosterone, estrogen and epinephrine or adrenaline, are the hormones which ensure that all the parts of your body receive blood, convert the glycogen into glucose in the liver and affect heart health.
Typically, adrenal fatigue is the condition where your body is unable to keep pace with the daily stress you experience. It is believed that continued chronic stress or an episode of acute stress can cause your adrenals to get overloaded and inefficient, causing the improper release of cortisol. Some of the causes of adrenal fatigue include:
- Stressful events such as divorce, the death of a loved one, surgery, etc.
- Exposure to environmental pollution and toxins.
- Continued long-term stress due to work environment, bad relationships, financial troubles, etc.
- Lack of proper sleep.
- Emotional trauma and negative thinking.
- Poor diet and lack of exercise.
- Food sensitivities and allergies.
- Overuse of stimulants such as caffeine, energy drinks, etc.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
When the adrenals do not produce hormones efficiently, all the body functions are affected and as the hormone levels fluctuate, you begin to experience the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, which include:
A major cause of adrenal fatigue is when you get sufficient sleep and even after sleeping for a long period of time, you get up feeling very “foggy” and extremely tired. This may be due to the fact that you may be under a lot of stress, which causes your cortisol and adrenaline levels to rise that disrupts the natural cycle of cortisol production, causing alertness in the evening, thus preventing you from getting restful sleep at night. If you suffer from chronic adrenal fatigue, this can cause low levels of cortisol consistently, which also causes low blood sugar. This makes you feel very hungry in the night leading to chronic late-night snacking.
If you feel that your energy levels are always very low and you need cups of coffee to keep you going through the day, it could be stress that is a major cause for the constant feeling of exhaustion. If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, this causes your adrenals to get depleted and they are not able to produce sufficient levels of hormones required by the body. This means that not only is the level of cortisol low, the neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and adrenaline are also lower, which causes you to feel extremely tired and exhausted.
One of the signs of adrenal fatigue is the inability to handle emotional and physical stress. Usually, when we experience stress, your adrenal glands release hormones such as cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline that helps to manage your stress response and increase focus and strength. However, if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands do not release sufficient levels of these hormones leading to irritability, anxiety, feelings of disinterest, apathy and lack of enthusiasm.
The cortex, which is a part of the adrenal glands is responsible for the production of the mineralocorticoid, aldosterone, that helps the kidney to regulate the excretion of fluid and minerals. When you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue, several important minerals are eliminated via your urine due to the reduced production of aldosterone. This causes inability to balance the levels of essential minerals like sodium, magnesium and potassium in the blood and this, in turn, causes a craving for salty foods in order to replenish the lost sodium. Sudden cravings for salty foods can indicate that you are suffering from adrenal fatigue.
Low cortisol levels can cause fluctuations in energy levels throughout the day. In a normal healthy person, the cortisol is the highest in the morning and the level declines gradually through the day. People suffering from adrenal fatigue experience spikes in the cortisol levels in the afternoon and evening, causing inability to sleep at night. So, you end up feeling tired and low in energy throughout the day with an increase in energy levels in the evening.
When you suffer from chronic stress, stimulants like caffeine and sugar that give you an instant “pick me up” start losing effect, as the endocrine system gets affected by stress. Also, caffeine can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. The more the stress, the more tired you become and the more stimulants you require and this becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break and results in extreme fatigue and hormonal dysregulation.
Cortisol helps to regulate the immune system because of its anti-inflammatory properties. And, a balanced cortisol level is essential for good health. Stress causes the cortisol levels in the body to become elevated, which stops the immune system from functioning effectively and in turn, a weakened immune system, making your body vulnerable to diseases. On the other hand, low cortisol levels let the immune system overreact to the pathogens, which leads to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
In the early stage of adrenal fatigue, the high levels of cortisol cause the immune response of the body to be suppressed leaving you susceptible to diseases. In the later stages of adrenal fatigue, the low cortisol levels can cause inflammation, allergic infections and autoimmune diseases.
The other symptoms of adrenal fatigue are:
- Brain fog
- Hormonal imbalance
- Hair loss
- Insulin resistance
- Autoimmune conditions
- Decreased libido and sex drive
- Bone and muscle loss
- Weight gain
- Skin problems
The good news is that adrenal fatigue is easy to treat and 3 simple steps can help you do it – by following an adrenal fatigue diet, reducing stress and taking supplements.
Diet plays a very vital role in helping in adrenal recovery and there are several foods that can help to support your adrenals and help in replenishing the adrenal energy so that you can regain your health, vigor and vitality. The first step to the adrenal fatigue diet is the removal of foods that are hard to digest and all chemicals and toxins from your environment. The main idea is to eliminate all the foods that strain your adrenal glands.
Caffeine not only interferes with your sleep patterns, it also makes it very difficult for your adrenal glands to recover. And, if you do drink a caffeinated beverage or coffee, ensure that you consume a very limited quantity in the daytime before noon.
It is a good idea to avoid sugar and also artificial sweeteners, as well as, corn syrup. Also, avoid cereals, candy, sugary foods, sweets and foods that have added sugar such as bread, dressings and other condiments. Use raw honey or sweeteners such as stevia.
Carbs are not bad for your health; however, they may cause inflammation, which can be a problem especially when you are having adrenal fatigue. When you are stressed, you may experience a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods which may offer brief satisfaction but may be quite taxing for the adrenal glands. So, if you are feeling stressed out, try and avoid starchy carbs and foods containing gluten for a bit, as it may help to control your fatigue and increase your energy levels.
Microwaving of foods is not really a recommended option and microwaveable, processed foods are doubly dangerous as they contain fillers and preservatives that are difficult to digest and erode the body’s digestion and energy cycle. Try and eat fresh foods and prepare your own meals with fresh ingredients.
Oils such as canola, soybean and corn oil can cause adrenal inflammation. So, consume healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil and organic butter instead.
Too much of protein can cause stress to your hormones. In addition, processed meats such as steak and beef lack nutrition and also contain added hormones which are quite hazardous to your health. So, when you’re following an adrenal fatigue diet, opt for free-range turkey or chicken, grass-fed beef, etc. and consume protein-heavy meats in moderation.
Add foods that are nutrient-dense, easy to digest and possess healing qualities, to your diet. Some of the foods that are excellent for adrenal health are:
- Fatty Fish: Wild-caught salmon
- Poultry: Free-range turkey and chicken
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.
- Nuts: Almonds and walnuts
- Seeds: Pumpkin, flaxseeds, chia
- Bone broth
- Healthy fats
- Seaweed, kelp
- Himalayan salt, Celtic salt
- Fermented Probiotic-Rich Foods: Yogurt, tempeh, tofu, etc.
- Medicinal Mushrooms: Cordyceps and Chaga
These foods are highly nutrient-dense, contain healthy fats, fiber and are low in sugar, which make them excellent for combating adrenal fatigue.
An excellent way to fight adrenal fatigue is to take supplements and herbs that can help to heal your body. Dietary supplements with minerals and vitamins can help a lot in fighting adrenal fatigue and aid in adrenal support.
Studies show that adaptogen herbs such as holy basil, ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea and Schisandra can help to lower cortisol levels and help to alleviate stress levels in the body. And, consuming these herbs can help to reduce the strain on the adrenals and relieve adrenal fatigue.
Using fish oil supplements have several benefits and can help to reduce symptoms related to adrenal fatigue such as the function of the immune system, anxiety, depression, arthritis, skin problems, weight gain, etc.
Licorice extract can help to increase the DHEA levels in the body and helps in relieving the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. However, the licorice root may have side effects and must be avoided by people suffering from kidney, heart and liver problems and by pregnant women. Also, licorice root must not be taken for a period of more than 4 weeks.
Magnesium is one of the most vital nutrients that can help to fight adrenal insufficiency. Magnesium supplementation has shown great benefits in the case of adrenal fatigue.
Studies have revealed that vitamin B12 deficiency may cause stress on the adrenal cortex. Also, it has been found that people suffering from adrenal stress are usually deficient in vitamin B5. If you are removing meat or reducing it to combat adrenal fatigue, then it is a good idea to take a high-quality vitamin B-complex supplement.
Vitamin C is a “stress buster” and has been found to reduce the effects of stress and also reduce the time required for you to bounce back in case of stressful events, and can therefore help to relieve the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.
Apart from maintaining homeostasis between phosphorus and magnesium in the body and helping to build strong bones, vitamin D plays a very important role in adrenal function and fatigue.
Selenium is extremely important and a study revealed that selenium deficiency can impact the adrenal function adversely.
Along with lavender oil, using rosemary oil can help to reduce oxidative stress on the cells and also decrease cortisol levels.
The final and very important aspect of restoring the adrenal function is to pay attention to your mind and stress levels. And, you can do this by:
- Resting as much as possible when you feel tired.
- Follow a regular sleep cycle, avoid staying up very late and go to bed before 10 pm.
- Ensure that you get at least 8-10 hours of a good night’s sleep.
- Do fun stuff every day and laugh a lot to destress yourself.
- Reduce all kinds of relational and work-related stress.
- Eat regularly and follow proper meal times and reduce your sugar and caffeine intake.
- Exercise regularly. Yoga and meditation can help to reduce stress responses and improve your quality of life.
- Avoid negativity.
- Focus on yourself and take up relaxing activities.
- If you have had any negative or traumatic experiences, seek support or counseling.
The main cause of adrenal fatigue is stress and it can have a negative effect and take away from your quality of life. However, with a few easy steps such as following a healthy, nutritious adrenal fatigue diet, by taking supplements that can strengthen your body and relieve stress, being positive and surrounding yourself with positive people and following stress-reducing techniques, you can reduce pathological worrying and completely eliminate adrenal fatigue from your life.